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Full text of "My Country And My People"

LITERARY    LIFE

among the important tests of literary ability. Even parents
who had talented daughters to give away, and sometimes the
talented girls themselves, often chose their bridegrooms on the
strength of a few lines of really good poetry. Captives often
regained their freedom or received extra courtesy by their
ability to write two or three verses which appealed to the men
in power. For poetry is regarded as the highest literary accom-
plishment and the surest and easiest way of testing a man's
literary skill. Moreover, Chinese painting is closely connected
with Chinese poetry, being akin to it, if not essentially identical
with it, in spirit and technique.

To my mind, poetry has taken over the function of religion
in China, in so far as religion is taken to mean a cleansing of
man's soul, a feeling for the mystery and beauty of the universe,
and a feeling of tenderness and compassion for one's fellowmen
and the humble creatures of life. Religion cannot be, and
should not be, anything except an inspiration and a living
emotion. The Chinese have not found this inspiration or living
emotion in their religions, which to them are merely decorative
patches and frills covering the seamy side of life, having largely
to do with sickness and death. But they have found this
inspiration and living emotion in poetry.

Poetry has taught the Chinese a view of life which, through
the influence of proverbs and scrolls, has permeated into society
in general and given them a sense of compassion, an overflowing
love of nature, and an attitude of artistic acceptance of life.
Through its feeling for nature it has often healed the wounds in
their souls, and through its lesson of enjoyment of the simple
life it has kept a sane ideal for the Chinese civilization. Some-
times it appeals to their romanticism and gives them a vicarious
emotional uplift from the humdrum workaday world, and
sometimes it appeals to their feeling of sadness, resignation and
restraint, and cleanses the heart through the artistic reflection
of sorrow. It teaches them to listen with enjoyment to the
sound of raindrops on banana leaves, to admire the chimney
smoke of cottages rising and mingling with the evening clouds
nestling on a hillside, to be tender toward the white lilies on the
country path, and to hear in the song of the cuckoo the longing
of a traveller for his mother at home. It gives them a kind